A recent incident has drawn focus on wild-animal poaching.
A man, believed to be a rhinoceros poacher, was trampled to death by elephants in South Africa’s Kruger National Park.
The man and two accomplices reportedly were fleeing from park rangers when they encountered the elephants. The herd didn’t take kindly to the intrusion. Authorities said the startled pachyderms killed one of the men and injured one of the others. The poacher who made it out unscathed was captured. According to a release from South Africa National Parks, he told rangers about the trio’s run-in with the elephants. Rangers searched for the trampled poacher and found him still alive, but he died shortly afterward.
Incidents involving high-profile species, especially when the circumstances are this bizarre, draw people’s attention to poaching. Officials from the Wildlife Conservation Society say poaching has been on the rise since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused law-enforcement agencies to alter policing practices and caused some countries to close their borders to outsiders.
The latter factor has had a profound effect, especially in African countries where fees paid by hunters and eco-tourists help fund anti-poaching efforts. Without hunters and tourists, conservation efforts suffer.
Jobs dry up for law-abiding people in wildlife-rich areas. Folks who might otherwise have been guides, trackers, bearers, cooks and housekeepers for outfitters find themselves out of work and desperate to put food on the table. When that happens, animals and birds lose value as tourist attractions and gain value as bushmeat.
“Suddenly rural people have little to turn to but natural resources, and we’re already seeing a spike in poaching,” said Colin Poole, regional director for the Wildlife Conservation Society after three critically endangered giant ibises were killed for meat in Cambodia.
COVID-related lockdowns also appear to be providing opportunities to poachers more interested in cash than meat.
Officials with the World Wildlife Fund reported that at least 30 birds of prey have been illegally killed in Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. More than likely, those birds were killed for their plumage.
Christina Wolf-Petre, a species protection expert for the Fund’s Austrian affiliate, summed the situation up perfectly:
“While public life is severely restricted and the authorities are focused on fighting the pandemic, dozens of protected animals are victims of unscrupulous criminals,” she said in a statement.
Nowhere has that been more apparent than in the portions of Africa where rhinoceroses can still be found.
According to the New York Times, at least six white rhinos have been poached in Botswana since that country closed its borders because of COVID-19. Nine other rhinos have been poached in South Africa.
Bear in mind, too, that the three alleged poachers who ran afoul of those elephants in Kruger National Park were believed to have been looking for rhinos.
For all too many people, the potential reward outweighs the extreme risk. Rhino horn sells for $60,000 per kilogram in Vietnam and China. White rhinos have two horns that average about 2.5 kilograms apiece. Do the math. An average pair of horns would bring a dealer roughly $300,000.
A poacher would get only a fraction of that, but when one considers that the typical South African makes about $15,000 a year and a Botswanan just $12,000, it’s easy to understand why poachers have been so eager to exploit those countries’ coronavirus lockdowns.